The Legalization of Marijuana

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Group

Federal Marijuana Law

On August 29, 2013, during a conference call with state governors, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would allow the marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington to go into effect. Mr. Holder stated that the Justice Department would take a “trust but verify approach” to the new marijuana laws. Still, he did reserve the right to file a preemption lawsuit later if necessary. Few lawyers have the experience to fully understand federal marijuana law and its impact on Michigan marijuana cases.

Reasons the Federal Government Might Prosecute a Marijuana Offense:

Also, on August 29, 2013, the Department of Justice issued a Memo clarifying that it would retain the right to prosecute individuals who engage in the following circumstances:

  • the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  • the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other
  • illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers
  • posed by marijuana production on public lands;
  • preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

As further stated in the memorandum, the federal government has relied on state and local law enforcement to address marijuana activity, except for these stated federal enforcement priorities. This policy will continue. Most Michigan-based federal prosecutions for drug offenses occur in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Medical Marijuana Defense Attorneys

Why the Federal Government is Leaving it to the States:

Colorado and Washington have recently enacted laws that authorize the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana. The Department of Justice expects those states to establish laws that protect the above-stated federal interests. The memorandum states that strict laws must protect these factors and have adequate funding to enforce them. In return, the federal government will rely on the states to enforce any other drug crime violations related to marijuana.

Based on the state’s assurances that they will enact appropriately strict regulatory systems, the Justice Department advised the governors of Colorado and Washington that it would defer its right to challenge the state legalization laws at this time. However, the Department has stated that if the factors listed above materialize, federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities. The Justice Department may challenge the legalization itself.

The Department of Justice states that with the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory system and the compliance with and enforcement of such a system, it is satisfied that any issues regarding the state’s legalization of marijuana have been, or will be, adequately addressed. So, unless the factors listed above have come into play, the federal government will not get involved in prosecuting marijuana offenses. This is, obviously, a significant step toward reducing any federal involvement in the state rules, laws, and regulations regarding recreational and medicinal or medical marijuana.

Navigating the Complex Intersection of State and Federal Marijuana Laws

In states like Michigan, where the possession, sale, transfer, and manufacture of marijuana have been legalized for both medicinal and recreational use, individuals often assume that they are entirely shielded from legal repercussions. However, the interplay between state legality and federal prohibition creates a complex legal landscape that can lead to unexpected consequences. Despite state laws, the federal government retains the authority to enforce its own statutes, under which marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. This discrepancy raises a crucial question: “If you possess, sell, transfer, or manufacture marijuana in a state where it is legal, such as Michigan, can the federal government still charge you with a crime?”

The short answer is yes: the federal government can still prosecute individuals for marijuana-related activities that are legal under state law. This potential for federal prosecution underscores the importance of understanding the limits of state legalization and the ongoing risks posed by federal law.

Federal Law Supremacy

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution establishes that federal law takes precedence over state laws whenever there is a conflict. As a result, federal authorities have the legal right to investigate, charge, and prosecute marijuana-related offenses, even in states that have legalized these activities.

Enforcement Priorities

In practice, the likelihood of facing federal prosecution for marijuana activities legal under state law largely depends on enforcement priorities. Historically, federal agencies have focused their resources on significant drug trafficking operations, particularly those with connections to organized crime, cross-state distribution, or activities on federal property. However, enforcement priorities can shift with changes in administration and federal policy, leaving individuals and businesses in legal states in a state of uncertainty.


Given the complex legal environment surrounding marijuana, individuals and businesses involved in the legal cannabis industry in Michigan—or those partaking in cannabis legally under state law—face unique legal risks. Here is where the expertise and guidance of LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. become invaluable.

Expert Legal Navigation: Our firm has a deep understanding of both state and federal marijuana laws. We are adept at navigating the complexities of this evolving legal landscape, ensuring that our clients remain compliant and informed.

Proactive Legal Defense: Should you face federal investigation or charges related to legal marijuana activities under state law, our team is prepared to offer a robust defense. We leverage our extensive knowledge of criminal defense strategies and our understanding of federal prosecution tactics to protect your rights and interests.

Strategic Advice and Compliance: For businesses operating in the cannabis industry, our legal team can provide essential advice on maintaining compliance with state and federal guidelines, helping mitigate the risk of federal enforcement actions.

The legal dichotomy between state legalization and federal prohibition of marijuana creates a precarious situation for those involved in cannabis activities. Understanding your rights and the potential for federal charges is critical. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. stands ready to assist individuals and businesses navigating these waters, providing expert legal counsel and defense to safeguard your freedom and future in the face of federal scrutiny. If you have concerns about marijuana-related activities and the potential for federal prosecution, contact us to learn how we can help you.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys

The federal government’s relaxing its stance on marijuana is a huge step forward in the possible legalization, or at least decriminalizing, marijuana. These issues apply in Michigan as they are related to medical marijuana only. The recreational use of marijuana is still illegal under any circumstances. If you or someone you know is faced with federal criminal charges involving marijuana – possession of marijuana, use of marijuana, intent to deliver, or operating under the influence of marijuana or anything of that nature – it is essential that you have competent legal representation. The federal criminal defense attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have the knowledge and experience to help deal with federal marijuana law or any such situation.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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